16 Factors that Affect Saltwater Aquarium Cost (7 Ways To Reduce It)

Saltwater aquarium kept on a table

The process of setting up a saltwater aquarium can be fun and rewarding. However, the cost of building one can be high.

So, how much do these aquariums cost?

Saltwater Aquarium Cost

The cost of a saltwater aquarium depends on the tank size and the equipment you use to build it. The cost of an average-sized saltwater aquarium with all the essential features and livestock can range between $1200 to $2000, while the yearly maintenance cost is around $500 to $600.

You may need a bigger budget if you aim for a specialized tank with high-end equipment.

16 Factors that Affect Saltwater Aquarium Cost

The cost of building a new marine aquarium is one of the top concerns for a beginner aquarist.

The price varies according to the aquarium’s size, shape, material, and quality.

Given below are the main factors that dictate the cost of setting up a saltwater aquarium.

1. Livestock

The common belief that saltwater fish are more costly than their freshwater counterparts isn’t completely true.

While you can get many freshwater fish species at a low price, some saltwater fish aren’t too expensive either.

There are a lot of marine aquarium fish available for purchase.

The price depends on the specific species you want to buy. Exotic species are sold at an exorbitant price due to their rarity.

Marine fish such as clownfish, cardinalfish, gobies, and damselfish can be purchased for under $20.

On the other hand, you need to shell out a high price for some exotic fish varieties, starting from $100 to $1000.

2. Fish Tank

A fish tank is the first piece of equipment you need to buy while setting up any aquarium.

This is going to be a significant and long-lasting investment.

You can purchase a glass or acrylic tank based on your budget and preferences.

A) Glass Tank

Glass aquariums are easy to clean, rigid, and less prone to scratching.

The price of a glass tank can vary based on the type of glass and how it’s manufactured.

The average price of a glass tank can start at around $140 and run over $300.

B) Acrylic Tank

Acrylic tanks are more expensive than glass tanks. However, they come in a large variety in terms of shape.

Another advantage of these tanks is that they’re lighter and more impact-resistant than glass.

The price of an acrylic tank starts at around $150 and can run over $400, depending upon the size, material, and shape.

3. Aquarium Stand

The stand is an integral part of your saltwater aquarium. It should be sturdy enough to hold the aquarium’s weight.

The cost of a manufactured stand depends upon the size, material, and style. Most stands are made of metal, plywood, or MDF.

The cost of an aquarium stand can vary between $75 and $300.

4. Sump

A sump isn’t essential for saltwater aquariums.

However, due to its many benefits, it’s recommended that you have one in your tank.

The sump sits below your aquarium and can be used to fit various equipment such as a filter, heater, protein skimmer, calcium reactors, etc.

It’s beneficial as it provides additional aeration, increases total water volume, flow, and oxygenation, improves water quality, and can act as a backup water overflow system if the power fails.

Bigger sumps even have a compartment for a refugium.

The price of a sump varies from $50 and can go over $500 for advanced models.

5. Return Pump for Sump

A return pump is required when using a sump. It helps to circulate water back into the sump after filtering.

You need to get the right size return pump for a reasonable turnover rate.

The general thumb rule is to find a pump that delivers at least 5x to 10x the tank volume per hour.

Return pumps are available at prices ranging from $40 to $300.

6. External Filter

Canister filters are most reliable for saltwater and planted aquariums.

A canister filter can be used as the sole means of filtering the water as long as it’s maintained and cleaned regularly.

They can also be used in combination with other types of filtration.

The good thing about these filters is that they’re easy to clean and maintain.

The price of a canister filter depends on its capacity, brand, and model. It starts from around $40 and can go up to $200.

7. Heater and Thermometer

Saltwater fish and corals are sensitive to water conditions.

They need stable water temperatures and high levels of dissolved oxygen.

A heater and thermometer are necessary for maintaining ideal conditions for your saltwater fish and corals.

Some heaters also have built-in thermometers.

While for other heaters that don’t have a built-in thermometer, you can buy a stick-on, multi-function digital sensor or a floating thermometer.

Heaters and thermometers are available at different prices depending on their features and brands. You can expect to pay anywhere from $20 to $100.

8. Circulation Pump or Powerhead

A circulation pump or powerhead is essential in saltwater aquariums for circulating the water through the tank to keep it clean and fresh.

Some fish need a strong water current to thrive.

Hence, it’s essential to mimic their natural environment as closely as possible.

As a general thumb rule, you will need one circulation pump for every three feet of tank length.

The typical price varies between $20 to $30.

However, it can increase to around $200 depending on the quality, size, and strength.

9. RO System

A reverse osmosis (RO) system is optional for saltwater aquariums.

RO system is most beneficial if you live in areas where water hardness is high.

Tap water contains dissolved minerals and a lot of impurities that can harm fish and corals.

A RO system can help clean the chemical contaminants and remove up to 90% of the minerals, leaving the water clean and fresh.

Depending on the quality and strength of the RO system, the price can range between $50 to over $300.

10. Protein Skimmer

Protein skimmers are a crucial part of the filtration system for reef tanks.

They remove the organic waste from the water before it decomposes using air bubbles.

Protein skimmers also enhance the water quality and add oxygen to the water.

The price of a protein skimmer varies as per the tank size.

For a nano saltwater aquarium, you can get a protein skimmer for around $50.

However, if you have a large tank, the price can go up to around $500.

11. Lighting

Proper lighting is essential for a marine aquarium as it provides adequate light for photosynthesis.

Lighting also impacts the health of fish, plants, and corals.

There are two main types of lights: fluorescent and LED.

Standard T5 lighting is sufficient if you have a fish-only aquarium.

However, LED lights are a better option if you have plants and livestock that rely on photosynthesis.

The price for lighting depends upon the type of light chosen, the length of the fixture, and its output.

You can find lights for as low as $30, and it can go up to $300 or more.

12. Aquarium Substrate

Saltwater aquarium with substrate

The substrate is an essential part of a saltwater tank as it provides the base for your fish to live on.

Sand and gravel are two main types of substrate.

A substrate also helps house the beneficial bacteria that keep your aquarium healthy.

It’s also the foundation for the plants in the tank.

For sand substrate, you can choose between live sand and dry sand.

The type of substrate you should choose depends on what kind of fish you have, how much space you have available, and how much money you want to spend.

The cost can vary from less than $100 to over $500, depending upon the tank size and depth of the substrate.

13. Live or Dry Rock

Live or dry rock can be used for aquascaping to get a natural look for your aquarium.

These rocks can be used to build caves, mountains, and arches for the fish to swim through and take shelter.

Live rocks are an extension of the biological filter as they provide additional surface area for the beneficial bacteria to colonize.

The cost of live rocks depends on their source and the organisms attached to them.

You can find live and dry rocks at the following prices:

  • New Live Rock: $5 to $12 per pound,
  • Used Live Rock: $2 to $4 per pound, and
  • Dry Rock: $3 to $6 per pound.

14. Test Kit for Monitoring Water Quality

Test kits are essential for monitoring the water quality of your aquarium.

They test the pH, ammonia, nitrite, nitrate, and other vital parameters.

They’re easy to use and can be purchased online or at local pet stores.

The test kits come with instructions and tips to ensure proper usage.

The cost of test kits can vary from $10 to $40, depending upon the type.

15. Fish Food

Fish food is obviously crucial for saltwater fish to survive.

You need to feed your tank inhabitants a well-balanced and nutritious diet for healthy development.

Fish food comes in different forms, such as flakes, pellets, and frozen food. You can purchase them online or from a pet store.

The cost of fish food can vary between $5 to $15, depending on the amount and the formula.

16. Salt Mix, Additives, and Hydrometer

The salt mix is a key ingredient for marine aquariums. You can get a better deal if you purchase salt mix in bulk.

You can get sufficient salt at about $30 to $40 for a 50-gallon tank. For a larger tank of 200 gallons, the cost increases up to $70.

Dosing aquarium with trace additives is essential for the healthy development of the fish and corals.

Bottles of trace minerals cost between $10 to $20.

Similarly, hydrometers are vital to measure the gravity and salinity of the aquarium water.

The price of a hydrometer starts at around $10 and goes up to $30.

Why Are Saltwater Tanks so Expensive?

Saltwater aquariums are expensive as they need a lot of maintenance and care.

They need more equipment like a hydrometer for testing the salinity of the water, protein skimmers, powerheads, marine salt, live rocks, etc.

Even the food that you feed your saltwater fish is costly.

Moreover, the livestock for marine aquariums is also very expensive, particularly if you wish to have exotic fish species.

Lighting also adds to the total cost, as you need reef lighting if you add corals to the tank.

You also need to constantly monitor the tank conditions for proper functioning.

All these factors make saltwater aquariums very expensive.

How to Cut Down on The Cost of Setting up A Saltwater Aquarium?

A saltwater aquarium can be costly as you need to purchase a lot of equipment for its upkeep.

Here are some ways to save a few bucks while setting up a saltwater aquarium.

1. Choose the Right Fish

Saltwater fish are expensive compared to freshwater fish. It’s because of their high demand in the market.

These fish are also rare, and some exotic fish species are available at exorbitant prices.

Hence, it’s vital to research the fish you want to keep before purchasing one.

You can choose a fish such as clownfish, with an average price of around $10 to $25.

It will not only reduce your cost considerably but also liven up your tank with its colorful appearance.

2. Purchase Used Tank Equipment

Purchasing used equipment is another way of reducing the overall cost of a saltwater aquarium.

Brand new items are always expensive.

Instead, you can buy them second-hand from online sellers or local stores. It can lower the overall cost by up to 50%.

However, while purchasing used equipment, ensure that they’re in good condition and not broken.

3. Lease an Aquarium

Another option for reducing the aquarium cost is to lease one.

This option is great as you can enjoy the benefits of owning an aquarium without spending much money.

You need to pay the rent charges, and the leasing company will maintain the saltwater aquarium.

Leasing the saltwater aquarium reduces the cost significantly as you aren’t required to maintain it.

Moreover, if any equipment breaks down, the leasing company will repair or replace it at zero additional cost.

The leasing company takes care of everything.

This option is also beneficial when you want to set up a saltwater aquarium at your workplace and don’t have much time to maintain it.

4. Check out Online Stores for The Best Deals

Many sales happen during the festive season. You can plan your purchases when there are good offers.

For example, the Black Friday sale happens every year in the USA between November 24th and 27th.

During this time, you can avail of great discounts on various products.

If you want to save even more money, check out the Amazon Prime Day Sale.

You can even look out for freebies offered by the company.

Coupons are another way of saving money.

There are many websites where you can find coupons for different brands.

Using coupons for branded products is advisable as they offer better savings.

5. Buy in Bulk

Buying in bulk is another way of saving money. You can buy multiple items together to get discounts.

Food items and test kits are ideal candidates to purchase in bulk.

Don’t forget to check the expiry date of such items and ensure that they’re used within that period.

6. Breed Live Food

Live food is often used for feeding saltwater fish. You can culture these food items yourself.

This method is cheaper than buying live food. Moreover, you can easily control the quality of the food.

Live food, such as vinegar eels, brine shrimp, micro worms, daphnia, infusoria, etc., can be bred at home, thus reducing the overall cost.

7. Regular Maintenance

Regular maintenance of the tank equipment significantly reduces the overall cost.

If the equipment is maintained regularly, the chances of breakdowns are reduced.

A lot of money for repairing and purchasing new equipment can be saved.

Taking good care of the fish also increases their lifespan and keeps them away from diseases.